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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
1 Corinthians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 5-7

DISCOURSE: 1944

UNDUE PARTIALITY TO MINISTERS REPROVED

1 Corinthians 3:5-7. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

WE are apt to conceive of the primitive Churches as patterns of all perfection; and doubtless there were amongst them many individuals whose attainments in piety were truly apostolic: but there were in most of the Churches as great blemishes as can be found in any society of Christians at the present day. The Church of Corinth was peculiarly corrupt. They were indeed distinguished for gifts [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:5.]; but, in respect of graces, too many of them were sadly deficient. One evil especially obtained amongst them to a great extent: namely, the indulging of a contentious spirit, by means of which the Church was divided into parties; some accounting themselves followers “of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Cephas, and others of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:12.].” Now, though this evil did not prevail so far as utterly to subvert their souls, it kept them in a low, and, as it were, an infantine state; insomuch that the Apostle “could not speak to them as to spiritual” persons, who had made any considerable advances in the divine life; but was forced to address them as mere “babes in Christ,” to whom he could only administer “milk,” when he would gladly have rather “fed them with meat [Note: ver. 1, 2.].” Their being “puffed up for one minister against another [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:6.]” shewed that a great measure of “carnality was yet in their hearts [Note: ver. 3, 4.];” and that, though spiritual in the main, they yet conducted themselves too much like the “men” of this world, whose chief zeal was occupied in contending for the leaders of their respective sects.

The same spirit, as might be expected, still infests the Christian Church. And that we may be put on our guard against it, I will endeavour to shew,

I. In what light ministers should be viewed—

They are instruments, whereby God carries on his work in the souls of men—

[God is pleased to work by means, and to make use of men for the accomplishing of his gracious purposes in the world. Even when he has employed angels, he has still chosen to put honour upon men as his immediate instruments of good; as when he directed Cornelius to send for Peter to instruct him, and removed from Peter’s mind the scruples which would have kept him from executing that office of love. Though God might as easily effect his work without instruments, yet he has decreed that “faith shall come by hearing:” and where no minister is sent to till the ground, there is one great desert, in which no plant of righteousness is found, no real goodness exists. The land uncultivated brings forth nothing but briers and thorns. Human learning, to whatever extent it be carried, can produce no spiritual change in the heart of man. The most learned philosopher needs instruction from God’s ministers, no less than the untutored savage: yea, and to the end of life, no less than at the commencement of his Christian course, does every saint require the aid of ministerial exertions, to “water” that which Divine grace has “planted” in his soul: and the more exalted any man’s attainments are, the more highly will he esteem the ordinances of God, and the more sensible will he be of his dependence on them for a supply of those blessings which he stands in need of.]

They are, however, mere instruments, and nothing more—

[They can effect nothing of themselves: not even Paul himself, with all his eloquence and force of reasoning, could bring conviction to the minds of his hearers: the very discourses which converted some, only irritated others against him, and caused them to regard him as “a babbler,” and a maniac [Note: Acts 26:24.]. If any received his word aright, it was because God had “opened their hearts to attend to it.” “Whether he planted, or Apollos watered, it was God alone who gave the increase.” This is universally felt and acknowledged in the natural world. There may be a great disparity between the skill and industry of different labourers: yet no one ever thinks of ascribing the harvest to the skill of man: every one knows, that without the influences of the sun and rain the husbandman will cultivate his land in vain. And the same is true respecting ministers, who will labour to no purpose, if God do not accompany their word with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The very best of men are but as “a voice crying in the wilderness,” as unable in themselves to convert a soul as they are to raise the dead.]

The manner in which St. Paul speaks of them, will lead us to consider,

II. The importance of forming a right estimate of their labours—

A just view of them will teach us,

1. To moderate our regards for man—

[We are apt to idolize those from whose ministry we have derived benefit to our souls. From their labours we expect a blessing which we scarcely hope to derive from any other quarter; and a secret dissatisfaction arises in our minds, if, at any time, his place be occupied by a less-favoured minister. We forget that neither the word, nor the power with which it has been accompanied, were his; and we are ready to ascribe to him the honour which is due to God alone. But if we duly considered that ministers are only the channels of communication between the Fountain and us, and that the waters by which we have been refreshed have proceeded from God alone, we should look through them to God, and limit both our expectations and our gratitude to Him, from whom alone any spiritual good can flow. I say not that we are to feel no gratitude towards them: for “we are to esteem them very highly in love for their works’ sake.” Nor do I say that some measure of partiality may not fitly be shewn towards those to whom, under God, we owe our own souls: for “though we have ten thousand instructors, yet have we but one Father,” to whom, therefore, we owe a filial regard: but such a measure of attachment to one, as leads us to undervalue others, is a mere carnal feeling, which ought to be suppressed. St. Paul repeatedly appealed to the Corinthians themselves respecting this: whilst ye indulge such partialities, “are ye not carnal? yea, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk as carnal men?” I may say, therefore, that a just estimate of the labours of ministers will prevent an undue rivalry amongst them in our affections.]

2. To augment our dependence of God—

[The husbandman, when his fields are sown, looks to God for a blessing on his labours. In like manner will our eyes be directed to God alone for a spiritual harvest, if we be thoroughly convinced that he is the only source from whence it can spring. We shall not look to the creature, but to God, in and through the creature: and to the same gracious Giver of all good shall we render thanks for all the good we have received; ever mindful that it has proceeded from his Holy Spirit, “who divideth to every man severally as he will.” We shall be afraid of provoking God to jealousy, by ascribing to man any part of that glory which belongs to him: and we shall live in the very frame of those who are around the throne of God; who, ever mindful of the benefits they have received from him, are singing, “salvation to God and to the Lamb for ever and ever.” As in heaven, so on earth, the creature will be “nothing;” but God will be “all in all [Note: “Neither he that planteth, nor he that watereth, is any thing.”].”]

Let me found on this subject,

1. Some matter of inquiry—

[What benefit have you received from all the labours of your minister? Are there not many who are as ignorant and as worldly as if they had never heard the Gospel at all? You can bear me witness, that, from the beginning, “I have never known any thing amongst you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified;” and yet how many of you have derived no benefit to your souls! To what has this been owing? I acknowledge, with shame, that the word has been ministered to you in much weakness; but if Paul or Apollos had ministered unto you, even their labour would have been lost, it is to be feared, on many of you, because you have not regarded the word as God’s, nor looked to him for a blessing upon it — — — To some, we would hope, the word has not been altogether in vain: but would it not have taken far more effect, if you had looked less to the creature, and more to God? — — — I pray you to be on your guard respecting this. The brazen serpent was broken to pieces as “Nehushtan” (a piece of brass) because to it was transferred the honour that was due to God alone. Cease! O cease from all “carnal” partialities! and, by whomsoever God shall speak to you, “receive the word, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.”]

2. Some ground of encouragement—

[Behold what God has wrought by means of a few poor fishermen! And can he not make his word effectual for you? Is it not “sharper than any two-edged sword?” and shall it not still be “mighty, through Him, to the pulling down of strongholds, and to the casting down every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ?” It gained not its efficacy from the wisdom of Paul; nor shall it lose its efficacy because spoken by me. God has ordained, that “by the foolishness of preaching he will save them that believe:” and if ye receive our testimony, however weak it may be, it shall prove “the power of God to the salvation of your souls.” Direct your eyes, then, simply to the Lord; and, “since ye are not straitened in him, be not straitened in your own souls.” Only let your expectations be from Him alone, and you shall not be disappointed of your hope. “Open your mouth wide; and he will fill it.”]


Verse 11

DISCOURSE: 1945

CHRIST THE ONLY FOUNDATION

1 Corinthians 3:11. Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

THERE is not any thing more injurious to the Church of God than a party-spirit: yet even in the apostolic age did it begin to distract the Christian community. At Corinth it prevailed, and rose to an alarming height: and St. Paul was obliged to exert all his influence in order to counteract it. He reminded the partisans, that, as “God’s building,” they should be cemented together with brotherly love: that they should study to shew themselves worthy of the place they held in the Church, in expectation of that day when all their works should be tried by fire: and that, instead of fomenting strifes and divisions, they should unite with each other in cleaving steadfastly to the one foundation, whereon they stood.

The declaration in the text is plain, and of infinite importance—

To enter more fully into it we shall consider,

I. What foundations men lay for themselves—

Every man has some foundation for his hope. Though there are many shades of difference in the sentiments of different men, yet their grounds of hope may be reduced to two:

1. Their own goodness—

[Some think that nothing but gross sin can expose them to the wrath of God. They therefore congratulate themselves as having never done any thing to merit his displeasure. Others imagine that they may trust in the good works that they have done. They have, in their own apprehension, been regular in their duties to God and man: nor can they conceive that they should have any reason to fear. Thus, like the Pharisee of old, they thank God that they are not as other men; and are filled with self-complacency, because they are punctual in the observance of certain duties [Note: Luke 18:11-12.].]

2. Their own works and Christ’s merits united—

[Many, who see that their own works cannot justify them according to the strict tenour of the law, yet hope that they will, according to the milder demands of the Gospel. If they see that these will not suffice, they will look to Christ to supply their deficiencies. If they see that such an union is impracticable, and, that Jesus must be their only foundation, they hope, however, that he will save them for their works’ sake. Thus they either avowedly profess to participate with Christ the honour of their salvation; or, while they pretend to give the honour of it to him, they look for the original and moving cause of it within themselves. Like the Judaizing Christians [Note: Acts 15:5.], or the Gentiles whom Peter misled [Note: Galatians 2:12; Galatians 2:14.], they unite the law to Christ; as though Christ needed to have something superadded to him, to render his death effectual. At all events, if they find their error in this respect, they will regard their works as their warrant to believe in Christ; and will expect mercy at his hands, not so much because his grace is free and all-sufficient, as because they have something in themselves, which may deserve his notice and regard.]

These plans of salvation however will be found very erroneous, if we inquire,

II. What is that foundation which God has laid—

Nothing can be more clear, than that he has not laid either of those, which have been before mentioned—

[He often describes his people as performing good works: and often promises them, under that character, eternal life. But he always represents us as sinners, and as standing in need of his mercy. And he has sent his Son into the world for that very reason, because none could obtain mercy by any works of their own. Nor has he less clearly shewn, that works are wholly to be excluded from the office of justifying. He has told us, that salvation must be wholly of grace or wholly of works [Note: Romans 11:6.]. That every degree of boasting is excluded from that salvation which he has revealed [Note: Romans 3:27. Ephesians 2:8-9.]. And that the persons, whom he justifies, are ungodly, and without any works whatever to recommend them [Note: Romans 4:5.].]

Christ is the one foundation which he has laid in Zion—

[He “has set forth his Son to be a propitiation for sin:” and every sinner is to build his hope on Christ alone. Christ is the foundation laid in the covenant of grace [Note: Genesis 17:19. Hebrews 8:6.]. The same is laid in all the promises [Note: Genesis 3:15; Genesis 22:18. 2 Corinthians 1:20.]. The same was exhibited in all the types [Note: The Paschal Lamb, the Scape Goat, &c.]. The same is laid also in the Gospel [Note: 1 Peter 2:4-6.]. We are expressly told that there is no other [Note: Acts 4:12.]. Nor indeed can there be any other to all eternity.]

The necessity of building upon this will appear, while we consider,

III. Why no other can be laid—

Many reasons might easily be assigned: but one or two may suffice:

1. Any other would be unworthy of the Divine Architect—

[God himself is the architect [Note: ver. 9.]; and must have all the glory of beginning and perfecting this building. But, if men were to found their hopes on any thing but the Lord Jesus Christ, they would have whereof to glory [Note: Romans 4:2.]. So far as respect was had to any merit in them, so far might they ascribe the honour to themselves. Even in heaven their song must differ from that of the redeemed. Instead of giving all the glory to God and to the Lamb [Note: Revelation 5:13.], they must take a portion of it to themselves. But this would be utterly unworthy of God to suffer. Indeed he has told us that he never can nor will suffer it [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 1:31. Ephesians 2:8-9.]. We may be sure therefore that no such way of salvation shall ever be established, as leaves man at liberty to boast. We shall be rewarded according to our works, and in some respect for our works; but the only ground of acceptance, either for our persons or our services, is in Christ alone [Note: Ephesians 1:6.].]

2. No other would support the weight that is to be laid upon it—

[Whatever our souls need in time or eternity must be derived from that, which is the foundation of our hope. Our pardon must be obtained by it; our peace flow from it; our strength and righteousness be given us on account of it; and eternal glory be bestowed on us, as the reward of it. And can we build our hope of such things in any degree on our own works? Can we, who, if we had done all that is commanded us, should be only unprofitable servants, imagine, that we can in any respect merit such things, when we have done nothing that is commanded us, at least, nothing perfectly, or as we ought to have done it? Surely such an hope would soon appear to be a foundation of sand; and would infallibly disappoint us to our eternal ruin. Yea, the very persons who build on such a foundation, almost invariably deny, that any man can be assured of his acceptance with God; they account such an assurance to be an enthusiastic delusion; which is a clear acknowledgment of the insufficiency of their foundation to bear this weight.]

Infer,

1. How needful is it to inquire what foundation we are upon!

[If we build but a common habitation, we are careful on what foundation we raise it. How much more care should we exercise, when we are building for eternity! Let us inquire, whether we have been deeply convinced of the insufficiency of our own goodness, and of the impossibility of uniting any works of ours with Christ’s atoning sacrifice? And let us examine whether Christ’s obedience unto death be our only hope, our only confidence? We never can be saved, unless, with Paul, we utterly renounce the filthy rags of our own righteousness, and desire to be found clad in Christ’s unspotted robe [Note: Isaiah 64:6. Philippians 3:9.].]

2. How secure are they who are built upon the Lord Jesus Christ!

[Christ, on whom they stand, is justly called “a tried stone, and a sure foundation [Note: Isaiah 28:16.].” He never yet failed those who trusted in him. The vilest of mankind have found him able to save them to the uttermost. He is a rock to those who trust in him; nor shall the gates of hell prevail against them [Note: Matthew 16:18.]. Let all believers then rejoice in their security; and hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering [Note: Hebrews 10:23.].]

3. How careful should we be, what superstructure we raise upon him!

[While Christ is the foundation of our hope, we are also to build upon him all our works. But our works will all be tried by fire. If they be not such as tend to his glory, they will be burnt up as hay, and wood, and stubble. If they be truly good, they will stand the trial, like gold, or silver, or precious stones [Note: ver. 11–14.]. Let us then give diligent heed to our works. We may suffer loss in heaven, though we should not suffer the loss of heaven [Note: ver. 15.]. Let us then seek “a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].” While we renounce good works in point of dependence, let us practise them from love to our Redeemer. Thus shall we put to silence our adversaries; and adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.]


Verses 12-15

DISCOURSE: 1946

INSTRUCTIONS TO THOSE WHO BUILD UPON THE TRUE FOUNDATION

1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be sared; yet so as by fire.

IN our natural state, we follow the dictates of our own will, without consulting the honour of our God. Even after we are converted to God, there yet remains within us a proneness to follow our own inclinations, except as Divine grace counteracts that propensity, and prevails against it. In the Corinthian Church there were many awful proofs of this fact. The irregularities which obtained amongst them, were both numerous and deeply reprehensible. A party-spirit in particular created very grievous dissensions among them. St. Paul, reproving their unbecoming conduct, reminds both the preachers who fomented such divisions, and the people who were drawn aside by them, that their eternal happiness would be advanced or diminished in proportion as they cultivated or neglected a Christian temper; and that, if they would be approved of their God in the day of judgment, they must not only build on the right foundation, but raise upon it a superstructure that should be worthy of it.

To elucidate the words before us, we shall shew,

I. What is that superstructure which we ought to raise upon the true foundation—

Among the persons who rely on Christ as their only hope, there is a great diversity both of sentiment and action. This is intimated by the different images under which their conduct is represented in the text.

There are some whose actions may be compared to “wood, and hay, and stubble”—

[There were in the apostolic age two sets of teachers, who occasioned much strife and dissension in the different churches; namely, those who contended for the observance of the Mosaic ritual, and those who introduced into religion the dogmas of philosophy — — — Persons of similar dispositions and sentiments have infested the Church in every age. Some are distracting the minds of those around them with subtle questions and unedifying disputes about doctrines; others are magnifying the external forms of Church-government, as if they were of equal importance with the most fundamental articles of our faith; and others are bringing forward some fond conceits, which, from a desire of popularity and distinction, they propagate with all their might — — — How justly the superstructure which these men raise, may be compared to “wood, and hay, and stubble,” appears from the natural tendency, and universal effect, of their exertions: for, instead of edifying the Church in faith and love, their doctrines uniformly lead to error—to contention—to bondage. Hence it is that St. Paul studiously dissuaded all ministers from engaging in such unprofitable disputes, and all Christians from being led astray by them [Note: He bids us beware of the subtilties of philosophy, on the one hand, Colossians 2:8. 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20. 2 Timothy 2:16; 2 Timothy 2:23 and of the bigotry of superstition on the other, 1 Timothy 1:3-4. Titus 3:9.] — — —]

But those actions which we ought to be performing, may rather be compared to “gold, and silver, and precious stones”—

[As the Apostles themselves were, so have many in all successive ages been, intent on cultivating, both in themselves and others, all the graces of the Spirit. It has been their ambition, whilst they have founded all their hopes on Christ, to shew, by the holiness of their lives, that the Gospel is indeed “a doctrine according to godliness” — — — Now such a superstructure does indeed resemble the materials here mentioned; for it is valuable in itself—suitable to the foundation—ornamental to the edifice—and worthy of the Divine Inhabitant. Such is the superstructure which we all should raise: and it is the orderly accumulation of such materials as these, which assimilates the Church to that temple wherein God visibly resided [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:2; 1 Chronicles 29:7-8.], or rather, to that more glorious temple wherein he dwells invisible to mortal eyes [Note: Revelation 21:18-19.].]

That we may be stimulated to care and diligence in these things, let us consider,

II. The importance of erecting such an edifice as will be approved of by God—

This is set forth by the Apostle in very awful and appropriate terms:

1. Our works will all be tried as by fire—

[In that day when God shall judge the world, “he will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the most secret counsels of our hearts.” As the Judaizing teachers of old, or the philosophical reasoners, conceived that they were actuated solely by a regard for truth, while they were in reality instigated by pride and bigotry; so the contentious disputers about doubtful points of doctrine, or indifferent matters in Church-government, little think “what spirit they are of.” But, as fire tries the metals, and discovers the dross that is in them; so will that fiery trial discover the unworthy mixtures with which our most specious actions were debased. It is to no purpose therefore to deceive ourselves; for we shall most assuredly be undeceived in that solemn day, when “the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.”]

2. The works that are approved will add to our eternal happiness—

[Every grace which we exercise, is pleasing and acceptable to God. “A meek and quiet spirit,” and consequently every other holy disposition, “is in the sight of God an ornament of great price.” It is the mind, which God regards. A contrite sigh, a grateful aspiration, an adoring look, are of more value in his eyes than all the zeal or subtilty which ingenious disputants or pharisaic bigots can exercise. Nor shall a pious thought or desire pass unnoticed or unrewarded.]

3. The works which are disapproved will detract from our felicity—

[It is supposed that we unfeignedly build upon the right foundation; and that this will secure our acceptance with God. But the degree of our happiness will depend entirely on the superstructure which we raise. We may suffer loss in heaven, even though we should not suffer the loss of heaven. Known deliberate sins will rob us of heaven itself: and mistaken services, so far from increasing our reward, will diminish it. The person who has “added grace to grace with holy zeal and diligence, will have an entrance ministered unto him abundantly into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour [Note: 2 Peter 1:5-11.].” On the other hand, they whose spirit is less agreeable to the mind of God, will be saved only “as brands plucked out of the burning.” Wherein the precise difference will consist, we do not know. It is sufficient that we are informed it does exist, and will certainly he manifest at the last day. Some “will suffer loss,” and others “receive a full reward.” Surely this consideration may well make us careful to regulate our minds by the sacred oracles, and to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.”]

Address—

1. Let us look well to our foundation—

[It is obvious that, if they who build on the right foundation may be “scarcely saved,” they who are not fixed on that, cannot be saved at all. Let us remember then that Christ is the only foundation of our hopes, and that we must depend solely on the merit of his blood and righteousness [Note: ver. 11. with Isaiah 28:16.]. Every other hope must be renounced: and we must say with the Church of old, “In the Lord alone have I righteousness and strength.”]

2. Let us look well to our superstructure—

[The caution in the text clearly proves, that persons, upright in the main, are yet liable to err, and to be heaping up rubbish for the fire while they fancy that they are doing God service [Note: It is often said, ‘These persons are pious; and therefore God will not let them be deceived.’ The text gives a complete answer to this.]. Let us therefore take heed to our ways, and “take heed to our spirit.” Let us not only endeavour to live and act for God, but to do every thing from such motives, and in such a manner, as shall he approved by him in the day of judgment.]


Verse 16-17

DISCOURSE: 1947

THE DANGER OF DEFILING GOD’S TEMPLE

1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

EVERY passion of the human mind should be called forth in aid of vital godliness. The saints indeed are more influenced by considerations that excite their love and gratitude: but they still need to be sometimes impressed with truths that may awaken a holy fear and jealousy, especially when their conduct has been such as to deserve reproof. The Corinthians were in a high degree culpable on account of their contentions: the Apostle therefore warns them of the consequences of acting in a manner so unworthy of their profession.

In discoursing on his words, we shall consider,

I. The acknowledged privilege of Christians—

Christians, like the temple of old, are the habitation of God—

[The temple was the place where God dwelt in a more especial manner. Not only was the visible symbol of his presence there, but there also he manifested himself to his people in tokens of his love and communications of his grace. Thus does he also now reveal himself in his church [Note: Ephesians 2:20-22.]: yea, every individual believer is thus consecrated to his service, and honoured as his immediate residence [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.].]

Nor is this a doubtful, but a clear acknowledged, privilege—

[Ignorant people may doubt “whether there be any Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 19:2.]:” but true Christians know him, and know themselves to be his habitation. St. Paul frequently appealed to the Corinthians respecting this, not imagining that any one of them could entertain a doubt of it [Note: Compare with the text, 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:5.]. They must have often read of it in the Jewish scriptures [Note: Nehemiah 9:20. Isaiah 66:1-2.] — — — Often too must they have heard it from him: nor could they fail of knowing it from their own experience. If for an instant they reflected on the light, the strength, the consolations with which they had been favoured, they could not but ascribe them to the agency of God’s Spirit — — — and consequently they must be conscious of his dwelling in them as in his temple. Believers at this day have certainly not less grounds for drawing the same inference with respect to themselves: for they also are “a spiritual house [Note: 1 Peter 2:4-5.];” and therefore they may, and should, know, that they are in the actual enjoyment of this privilege.]

But as this privilege is attended both with duties and dangers, let us consider,

II. The declaration founded upon it—

God denounces the heaviest judgments against those who abuse this privilege—

[He would not suffer any unclean person to enter into his temple of old, however free he might be from moral pollution, or however ignorantly he might have contracted his ceremonial defilement [Note: Numbers 19:13.]. These ordinances were intended to shew, that sin of any kind, and much more such as now prevailed among the Christians at Corinth, was extremely hateful in his sight: such purity does he require in all that come nigh unto him. Doubtless there are errors, both in faith and practice, which, though injurious to his people’s happiness [Note: ver. 15.], will not destroy the relation that subsists between him and them [Note: ver. 12–15.]: but, if they be of such a kind as to affect the foundation of the Christian’s hope, or greatly to dishonour the superstructure, they will surely bring down the divine judgments on all who harbour them [Note: φθείρει, must import such a degree of defilement as has a tendency to destroy; because the destruction menaced is also expressed by the word φθερεῖ.]. This is declared respecting every kind of open immorality [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:18.]: but it is declared also, with very remarkable force and energy, respecting any departure from the principles of the Gospel, or any declension from a life of entire devotedness to God. St. Paul says to these very Corinthians, “I fear, lest as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so any of you should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3. φθαρῇ.].” Why does he use the term “corrupted?” Why does he not say, turned from the simplicity that is in Christ? Why does he use the very same word as in my text is translated by the terms “defile,” and “destroy?” No doubt he intended to shew us, that any great departure from Christian principles would corrupt, defile, and destroy the soul: and it is a fact, that such a dereliction of Christian simplicity does proceed from corruption in the soul, and will generate corruption in the life. This idea is strongly confirmed by what the Apostle elsewhere says of those who propagate specious errors, being “vainly puffed by their fleshly mind [Note: Colossians 2:18.]. They do, in reality, the devil’s work [Note: The text.]; and him they serve under the semblance of an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13-14.]. Beware then of his devices, of whatever kind they be, lest ye bring upon yourselves destruction from the Lord.]

This denunciation is even founded on the privilege itself—

[Why was God so jealous of the honour of his temple, but because it was his immediate residence? the more nearly it was connected with him, the more was he himself dishonoured by any pollutions introduced into it. Thus we also, instead of having any reason to hope for impunity on account of our relation to him, are taught to expect rather the heavier indignation, if we provoke the eyes of his glory [Note: Amos 3:2.]. He may not indeed depart instantly and at once; because he is long-suffering as in the days of old. In forsaking his temple at Jerusalem, he removed to the threshold of the temple first [Note: Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4.], and then to the court of the temple [Note: Ezekiel 10:18.], and then to the door of the east gate [Note: Ezekiel 10:19.], and then to the mountain [Note: Ezekiel 11:23.], that very Mount of Olives, from whence Jesus, the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, afterwards took his departure from the midst of them. So he may be often grieved by us before he finally departs from us: but we may so resist his sacred motions as ultimately to “quench” them [Note: Genesis 6:3. 1 Thessalonians 5:19.]: and then he will abandon us to our utter ruin [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:2. Ezekiel 18:24. 2 Peter 2:22.].]

Improvement—

1. Let us seek to possess this great privilege—

[As to be visited by an earthly monarch would be a higher honour than to be admitted into his palace, so to have God dwelling in our hearts on earth is even a higher honour than to be admitted into his temple above. Shall we not then be solicitous to obtain it? when God has designed that we should even know ourselves possessed of it, and enjoy all the happiness arising from it, shall we treat it with contempt, as a mere phantom of a heated imagination? Let us open wide the doors of our hearts, that the King of glory may enter in [Note: Psalms 24:7.]. With the Spirit of God dwelling in us, we shall have “all good things [Note: Luke 11:13. with Matthew 7:11.],” peace, joy, strength, purity, yea, an earnest and foretaste of our heavenly inheritance [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]. Let us never cease from our importunity till we have obtained from our God this “unspeakable gift [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:15.].”]

2. Let us be careful lest we abuse this privilege—

[Doctrines arising from human systems, even though they be true in themselves, must never be pressed into the service of sin, or be brought to enervate the force of declarations, which, though apparently opposite, are equally clear and true.

If some truths are revealed for the confirming of our stability, others are intended to create within us a holy jealousy. Instead therefore of attempting to invalidate the declaration before us, let us flee from those defilements which alone can make it formidable. Let us maintain that purity of heart which God requires, and study to “be holy as God is holy.” Especially must we guard against abusing our privilege by enthusiastic conceits on the one hand, or presumptuous confidence on the other. The Spirit’s operations do not supersede our efforts, but rather encourage them, and work by them [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.]: yet are they not to be discerned, except, like the wind, by their effects [Note: John 3:8.]. Let your life, then, testify that God is with you of a truth. “And I pray God, your whole spirit, and soul, and body, may be sanctified wholly, and preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.].”]


Verse 18

DISCOURSE: 1948

THE MEANS OF ATTAINING TRUE WISDOM

1 Corinthians 3:18. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

CONCERNING the nature of true wisdom, God and the world are at issue; the wisdom of man being foolishness with God, and the wisdom of God being foolishness with man [Note: Compare 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23. with 3:19.]. To what now must this be imputed? Is there any thing in the revelation which God has given us, that is contrary to right reason? or is it that man’s reason is darkened, and that his intellectual powers, no less than his bodily appetites, are depraved by sin? We apprehend that an impartial judge will not hesitate long in determining this question. But here another question arises; How shall man in his present fallen state be brought to entertain the same judgment of things as God himself does? Must he get some new faculty, whereby he shall have an additional mode of perception? or is there any way whereby his present faculties, weakened as they are, may be made to answer all the purposes for which they were originally given? To this we answer, that man does not want any new faculty, but only a new direction to the faculties he already possesses. We have a film upon the organs of vision, which needs to be removed: and for this end we must go to him who has said to us, “I counsel thee to buy of me eye-salve that thou mayest see [Note: Revelation 3:18].” To the same effect is the advice given us in the text: “If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise;” let him acknowledge, that he cannot see clearly at present; and let him submit to the operation of God’s word and Spirit: thus shall the film be purged away from his eyes, and he shall “walk in the light, as God is in the light [Note: 1 John 1:7.].”

This direction we would now submit to your consideration; and, for the fuller understanding of it, we will endeavour to set before you,

I. Its meaning.

II. Its reasonableness.

III. Its importance.

I. Its meaning.

It cannot be supposed that we are to lay aside our reason: that were to “become fools” indeed. Reason, in those things that are within its sphere, is an useful, though not an infallible, guide. And, in the things that are beyond its sphere, it has its office: it ceases to be a guide indeed; but it becomes a companion, that must attend us every step we take, and often interpose its counsel in difficult conjunctures.

To become a fool, in the sense it is enjoined in the text, implies two things; first, a consciousness of the weakness and fallibility of our reason, especially in things relating to God: and secondly, a willingness to submit our reason to the teachings of God’s word and Spirit.

That our reason is weak and fallible, we see every day and hour. How differently will men argue on the most common subjects, and yet with equal confidence of the truth of their opinions! How will those very arguments, which, under the influence of vanity, or interest, or passion, once seemed to a man unanswerable, afterwards appear to him frivolous in the extreme, when the bias that was upon his mind has ceased to operate!

But it is in things relating to God that the fallibility of our reason more especially appears. How ignorant are the heathen world respecting the will of God, and the way in which they are to obtain acceptance with him! And how crude are the notions, which many who have the Bible in their hands, form respecting the path of duty, and the way of salvation! How absurd, for instance, was the idea that Nicodemus formed of the new birth, when he conceived it to be a repetition of a natural birth [Note: John 3:4; John 3:9.]! Thus it is with many amongst ourselves: they cannot hear of the new birth, or of justification by faith, or of the influences of the Spirit, without annexing to them ideas, if not as gross, yet quite as erroneous, as those of Nicodemus. But we may presume that Christ and his Apostles were right in their judgment of spiritual matters; and that others are right in proportion as they accord with them in sentiment, in spirit, and in conduct. In what light then will our boasted reason appear, if tried by this touchstone? Will not its dictates be found in direct opposition to the voice of inspiration, and consequently erroneous? Is there not such an universal departure from the scripture standard, that the few who adhere to it, are, as the prophet calls them, “Men wondered at [Note: Zechariah 3:8.]?”

To become a fool, then, is to feel the insufficiency of our own reason, and to be sensible that we are exceeding prone to form wrong opinions on Divine subjects, insomuch that we need at all times greatly to distrust our own judgment.

But this expression implies also a willingness to submit our reason to the teachings of God’s word and Spirit. Men who have a high opinion of their own reason, are ever ready to bring the word of God to their bar, and to pass judgment on it as true or false, according as it agrees with, or opposes, their own preconceived opinions. They are not contented to let reason judge, whether the revelation itself be from God or not? (that is its proper office) but, having acknowledged it to be from God, they proceed to determine on the points that are revealed, exactly as if they were able with their shallow reason to fathom the depths of Divine wisdom.

This disposition must be mortified; and men, however learned or wise in the estimation of themselves and others, must submit to “be taught of God [Note: John 6:45.].” The only use of reason, as applied to revelation, is to ascertain, Whether the revelation, purporting to be from heaven, be indeed of Divine authority; and, What is the true import of that revelation in all its parts. These two points being ascertained, it is not the province of reason to judge whether a thing confessedly revealed, be true or not: there faith steps in, and supplies the defects of reason; and assures the mind, that the point itself is true, because it is revealed; and that if its truth do not appear evident to the eye of reason, it is not from any irrationality in the point itself, but from a want of clearness in our reason to discern it, and a want of purity in our hearts to receive it.

Thus, to become a fool, is to take the word of God with the simplicity of a little child; to acknowledge our inability to comprehend it; and to implore of God the influences of his Spirit, that “the eyes of our understanding being enlightened, we may be able to comprehend the heights and depths [Note: Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:18.]” of his revealed will. In short, it is to “receive with meekness the engrafted word [Note: James 1:21.],” and to pray with Job, “What I see not, teach thou me [Note: Job 34:32.],” or with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law [Note: Psalms 119:18.].”

Now it must be confessed, that this is humiliating to our proud reason; and that it is difficult for those who “seem wise in this world,” to condescend to receive instruction in such a way. But we shall find, that the Apostle’s direction, if duly considered, may be vindicated (as we are in the next place to shew) on the ground of,

II. Its reasonableness

To become fools in order to be wise, however paradoxical it may appear, is, in the view of it before stated, most highly reasonable: for, in so doing, we acknowledge nothing but what is undeniably true—and submit to nothing, but what we cheerfully submit to in the acquiring of human wisdom.

We acknowledge nothing but what is undeniably true. Let us look into the Scriptures, and see how our characters are painted there. In them we are told, that “the god of this world hath blinded our eyes [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.]:” that “we have walked hitherto in the vanity of our mind, having our understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, because of the blindness of our hearts [Note: Ephesians 4:17-18.]:” that, on this very account, we need “a spirit of wisdom and revelation to enlighten us [Note: Ephesians 1:17.]:” that, in our conversion, our “eyes are opened,” and we are “turned from darkness unto light [Note: Acts 26:18.],” yea, are “brought out of darkness into marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].” We are further told that, so far from having in ourselves a knowledge of the things of God, we do not even receive them when offered to our view; yea, we account them foolishness, neither can we know them, because we are destitute of that spiritual understanding whereby alone they can be discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].

These are plain truths which require no comment.

Let us now see these truths exemplified. If we would state our argument in its most advantageous point of view, we should adduce the Gentile world as proofs of the fallibility of man’s reason; and shew, that “by wisdom they knew not God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:21.].” But we will wave this advantage, and take the instance of St. Paul, who had the Scriptures in his hands, who was educated under the most eminent teacher of his day, and who had made a proficiency in biblical learning beyond any of his own age. With these helps, we might well expect that reason should perform its office to admiration, and prove to the world, that it was not so vitiated as some imagine. Doubtless he, who had the advantage of living under the brightest, fullest dispensation of Gospel light, should in no respect continue in darkness: he must have clear views both of his duty to God, and of that method of salvation which had been typified in the Scriptures, and was now made plain by the preaching of a crucified Saviour. Yet behold, this very man was grossly ignorant both of the law, and of the Gospel too: he knew not that the law condemned the inmost workings of iniquity in the soul [Note: Romans 7:7; Romans 7:9.]; or that the prophecies had been accomplished in Jesus [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]. Nor, unless God had caused the “scales to fall from his eyes [Note: Acts 9:18.],” would his reason ever have sufficed to rectify his views, or to keep him from being a self-righteous moralist, a furious zealot, and a bloody persecutor.

Thus much could reason do for him: “his very wisdom and knowledge, instead of guiding him aright, perverted him [Note: Isaiah 47:10.];” “he became vain in his imaginations, and his foolish heart was darkened; professing himself to be wise, he became a fool [Note: Romans 1:21-22.].”

In addition to what has been thus stated and exemplified, we will only observe, that God speaks with utter indignation against those who fancy themselves wise, or expect ever to become so by the mere exertion of their own reason; “Vain man would be wise, though he be born like a wild ass’s colt [Note: Job 11:12.].”

Here then permit me to ask; Does not God know more of us than we do of ourselves; and, Do not the passages that have been adduced, declare at least as much as they have been brought to establish? How much more they affirm, we shall not now inquire: but that they shew the fallibility of our reason in things relating to God, and the propriety of submiting our reason to the teaching of God’s word and Spirit, no candid person will deny.

Is it not then reasonable that we should acknowledge these truths? Shall we make ourselves wiser than God? Will not the very attempt to do so be an irrefragable proof, that we are fools indeed?

But the reasonableness of becoming fools in order to be wise appears yet further, in that it is the very thing which we cheerfully do in order to attain human wisdom.

If a man begin to learn any science, and his preceptor tell him of some deep part of that science, which at first sight appears to involve in it a contradiction or absurdity; he does not presently determine that that point is false; but he conceives that there are things which he does not yet understand; and he contents himself with studying, in the method prescribed to him, those parts which are suited to his capacity, hoping that in due time he shall gain a further insight into those abstruser matters, and see the truth and reason of those things which he cannot at present comprehend, and which. through his ignorance of the intermediate points, he would not be able to comprehend, even if they were ever so clearly stated to him.

Now why should we not act thus with respect to religion? Has not that as great depths as any human science? Or rather, is it not more above the sphere of human intellect than any other science whatever?

But it will be asked, What are those first rudiments which we must understand well in order to qualify us for a deeper knowledge of the subject? To this we answer, (and O that God would impress it on all our minds!) The knowledge of ourselves is the key to all other knowledge. If we do not know by deep experience, that we are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked [Note: Revelation 3:17.],” we never can “know any other truth as we ought to know it.” On this the whole Scripture turns. It is because of our guilt and misery, that we need the atoning blood, and unspotted righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of our blindness and pollution, that we need the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. It is because we are altogether destitute of any thing that is good, that we must be be saved wholly by grace, and that we must receive “Christ as our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].” We may indeed obtain a head-knowledge of these things from books, while yet we remain as proud and unsanctified as the most ignorant heathen. But a real, spiritual, and saving knowledge of these things can be learned only by divine teaching, and must always be preceded by a knowledge of our own hearts: indeed, it will always be exactly proportioned to our self-knowledge: the more we feel ourselves destitute of wisdom, goodness, and strength, the more insight shall we have into “the deep things of God,” and the more precious will every Scripture truth be to our souls.

We repeat the question then, Why should it be thought unreasonable to adopt this method of attaining heavenly wisdom, when it is the method we invariably pursue in the investigation of human sciences? Is it not reasonable that we should pay as much deference to God as to man? Or is religion alone, of all subjects, so easy to men’s apprehension, that they who have never paid attention to its first principles, are yet competent to sit in judgment on its most mysterious truths? Surely, if a submission to any given process be judged reasonable in the prosecution of human knowledge, much more must it be so in the pursuit of that which is divine.

We must not be satisfied however with shewing the reasonableness of the direction before us; we must go on to state, in the last place,

III. Its importance

Every word of God deserves our deep attention. But the exhortation in the text is singularly important; for first, It declares the only way in which we can ever attain true wisdom.

If we could attain the end by different means, it would be of the less consequence whether we used these means or not. But here is the door of knowledge; and the only question is, Whether we will enter in by it or not. It requires us to stoop, yea, to stoop much lower than we wish: but stoop we must; or else we can never gain admission to “the secrets of God’s covenant [Note: Psalms 25:14.].” God holds the key of knowledge in his own hand: “he alone can give wisdom and understanding [Note: Proverbs 1:6.]:” we may compass sea and land; we may learn all languages, and explore all sciences, and repeat the very Scriptures themselves from beginning to end; and yet never attain true wisdom. If any man will be wise, he must become a fool, in order that he may be wise. The most learned man in the universe can know nothing savingly in any other way: and the weakest man in the universe shall know all that is needful for him, if he will but enter in at this door: “God will reveal to babes the things which he has hid from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.]:” and “a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein [Note: Isaiah 35:8.].”

Can any thing more strongly shew the importance of this precept, than the consideration, that none can remain destitute of true wisdom who obey it, or obtain true wisdom who despise it?

We are aware that some may ask, Are there not many persons learned in the Scriptures, who yet never attained their wisdom in this way? We answer, Either they attained their wisdom in this way, or their wisdom is no other than “the wisdom of the world, which is foolishnesss with God.” We have nothing to do with individuals. The point to be resolved is, Whether God requires us to become fools in our own estimation, in order that we may be wise in his? And if he do require it, then shall men become wise in his way, or not at all.

But there is another view in which the importance of this precept will appear, namely, that if we obey it not, our reason, instead of guiding us aright, will only mislead us more and more, and render us more obstinate in our error.

The more confident we are respecting the truth of our present views, the more shall we regulate our conduct according to them: and consequently, if they are wrong, we shall wander further and further from the right way, and yet conceit ourselves to be in the path of duty. Moreover, God himself will give such persons up to their own delusions, as a just punishment for the pride of their hearts. The very words following the text are full to this point; “He knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain:” and again, “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness [Note: ver. 19, 20.].” Let us hear our Lord himself speaking to the Pharisees, who disdained to be taught by him: “For judgment I am come into this world; that they who see not, might see; and that they who see, might be made blind.” And when they answered with indignation, “What, are we the blind persons you are speaking of?” he answered, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth [Note: John 9:39-41.].”

The language of the Apostle in the first chapter of this epistle, is peculiarly strong and animated; “It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19-20.]?” Thus we may ask in reference to all who will not learn in God’s appointed way, What does their wisdom do for them? Does it bring them to God? Does it enable them to overcome the world? Does it disarm death of its sting? Does it inspire them with a hope full of immortality? Does it sanctify them throughout in all their tempers and dispositions, and transform them into the image of the blessed Jesus? We may even ask, Whether, so far from loving to be taught of God themselves, they do not feel an enmity in their hearts against those who are taught of God; and account them fools, whom God declares to be the only wise?

Here then the point appears in its true light. If men will not become fools in their own estimation, they shall be fools indeed: for they shall wander incessantly “in their own deceivings,” and shall “perish at last for lack of knowledge [Note: Hosea 4:6.].”

We cannot conclude this subject without observing—

How much it reflects on a fact which has existed in every age of the Church, which yet it is not easy to account for, namely, that few of those who are eminent for learning, are at the same time eminent for spirituality of heart and life.

St. Paul in this very epistle says to the Church at Corinth, “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.].” Thus must we say in reference to our times, that not many wise, or many noble, are found among the despised followers of Jesus. And the reason is, that men will not condescend to be taught of God in the way that God requires: they are “wise in their own conceits:” their wisdom is even a greater bar to their salvation than their lusts: for, their lusts they will condemn, even while they inwardly indulge them: but their wisdom they hold fast, nor will they part with it, even for “the wisdom that cometh of God [Note: James 3:17.].” Being therefore too proud to learn, they are left in ignorance; and, stumbling at the very threshold of the sanctuary, they never enter within the vail.

Here then let us call to mind the first words of the text: “Let no man deceive himself.” We all, and especially those “who seem wise in this world,” are in danger of self-deception. But let us remember that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:25.].” Let us therefore “not lean to our own understandings [Note: Proverbs 3:5.];” but, aware of the weakness and fallibility of our own reason, let us submit ourselves humbly to the teachings of God’s word and Spirit.

To this advice it may be objected perhaps, That we promote an enthusiastic dependence on divine impulses; and puff up ignorant persons with spiritual pride; and discourage the pursuit of sound learning.

Let us then be heard in reply to these objections.

In answer to the first we say, that we should indeed promote enthusiasm, if we exhorted any one to follow impulses that were independent of the written word: but if we recommend all persons to regulate their sentiments solely by the written word, and to rely on the influences of the Holy Spirit no further than they accord with that, then neither we, nor they, are in any danger of enthusiasm, because the sacred oracles are an unalterable standard to which every thought and action may be brought, and by which its quality may be infallibly determined.

With respect to the encouraging of spiritual pride, surely the inculcating of humility is a strange way of promoting pride. Suppose we were to tell men that their own reason is sufficient for every purpose of spiritual instruction; and that they are at liberty to weigh every truth of Scripture in their own balance, and to admit, or alter, or expunge whatever accords with, or opposes, their own sentiments; then indeed there would be some foundation for the objection. But when we recommend a cheerful submission to the voice of inspiration, and a humble dependence on God’s promised aid, we cut up pride by the very roots, and lead men to confess, that all their sufficiency is of God alone. And if any pervert this doctrine to the fostering of their own pride (and what doctrine is there that has not been perverted?) the fault is not in the doctrine itself, but in those who abuse it: and if an argument from the abuse of a thing be valid, we must then give up the Bible itself; since every doctrine in it has been more or less abused.

Lastly, as to the discouraging of sound learning, how can that be a consequence of the foregoing statement? We have not insinuated that worldly wisdom is unnecessary for worldly purposes, but only for the attainment of divine knowledge: and therefore we can no more be said to speak against human wisdom because we deny the necessity of it in order to the attainment of that which is divine, than we could be said to decry divine wisdom, if we should deny that to be necessary in the investigation of human sciences. Nor have we intimated that human wisdom is of little value for the elucidating of the Scriptures; for most assuredly it is of exceeding great value in this view, especially when used in conjunction with, and in subserviency to, divine wisdom. And lest any one should conceive, that deductions unfavourable to the pursuit of literature should appear to be authorized by this discourse, we declare unequivocally, that it is the duty, the indispensable duty, of all students, whatever be the sphere in which they are afterwards to move, to cultivate human wisdom, and with all diligence to prosecute the work assigned them, “not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” We do not hesitate to say, that they would be culpable in the highest degree, if they should make religion a pretext for neglecting their Academical studies. We would solemnly exhort them all to remember, that, as in our families, so also in God’s family, every servant best executes his Master’s will, when he is most attentive to the duties of his place and station.

Having thus endeavoured in few words to obviate such objections as were likely to arise, what remains, but that we entreat those who think themselves wise, to become fools in their own sight; and those who feel that they “lack wisdom, to ask it of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and without upbraiding [Note: James 1:5.].”


Verses 21-23

DISCOURSE: 1949

THE CHRISTIAN’S PRIVILEGES

1 Corinthians 3:21-23. Let no man glory in men. For all things are your’s; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

IT is scarcely to be expected, considering the weakness and depravity of our fallen nature, that the Church in any place should be free from dissensions and disputes. If every man who embraced the Gospel were from thenceforth altogether under its influence, nothing but love and harmony would prevail. But, not to mention the insincerity of some, who, like Simon Magus, profess the truth without experiencing any of its sanctifying influence, the hearts of men are not changed all at once, but by a gradual and progressive advancement in the divine life. Hence corruption will be at work, as well as grace; and, whilst the Spirit lusts against the flesh, the flesh will lust against the Spirit, and in some cases prevail against it, to the disturbing and defiling of the Church. So it was even in the apostolic age; and even where Paul himself preached. A party-spirit early prevailed in the Church of Corinth; different parties arraying themselves under different heads; some saying, that they were of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Cephas, and others of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:12.]. To repress these contentions, the Apostle remonstrated with the people on the impropriety of their conduct: and, having exposed the evil of such a spirit, he now, in conclusion, shews, that to “glory in men” is highly criminal; because of,

I. Our interest in God—

All that God has, belongs to us, if we believe in Christ:

1. His servants are ours—

[They are ours, with all their talents, and with all their labours: the most eminent among them is but “a steward of the mysteries of God,” appointed by God to dispense them to his people; “an earthen vessel, in which treasures” are deposited by him for their use. They are Christ’s servants; and they are ours for his sake [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:5.]. Paul, and Apollos, and Cephas were not endowed with their respective powers for their own sake, but for the sake of the Church and of the world; as we are expressly told: When “Christ ascended up on high, he gave some, Apostles; and some, Prophets; and some, Evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:11-12.]:” so that all to whom they are sent, may consider them as among their treasures, the gifts of God to them for the benefit of their souls.]

2. His creatures are ours—

[The whole “world,” and all that it contains, is ours, if we believe in Christ. The sun is ours to light us by day, and the moon and stars by night. The rain is ours, and the produce of universal nature, as far as is for our good. As to the actual possession of it, we may have but little; but as to the sanctified enjoyment, we have all. St. Paul speaks of himself as often oppressed with want and nakedness: yet, not-withstanding in appearance he had nothing, in reality he “possessed all things [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].” Little as a worldly mind can enter into the idea, it is a fact, that the poor godly man has a richer enjoyment of his pittance, than the most opulent of ungodly men have of all their sumptuous feasts and large estates. To live by faith is a sublimer happiness than to live by sense; because in the cup of one who so lives, there is an ingredient which the other never tasted, and never can taste: “God himself is the portion of his inheritance, and of his cup [Note: Psalms 16:5.]:” whether he have little or much, he enjoys God in it; and therefore he has the best possible use of all sublunary good.]

3. His dispensations are ours—

[“Life,” with all its comforts, belongs to the believer; nor can it ever be taken from him till his appointed time be come. “Death” also is among the number of his possessions. Terrible as it is to the unbeliever, it ceases to be so when once we give ourselves up unfeignedly to Christ as his peculiar people: from that moment its sting is drawn: and every man who can say with truth, “To me to live is Christ,” may with the fullest assurance add, “To me to die is gain [Note: Philippians 1:21.].” The pains and sorrows which usually precede death are only so many means of purifying the soul, and of preparing it for its appearance before God: and the final stroke is no other than the opening of the gates of Paradise for the soul’s admission to the full possession of its inheritance. If the stroke be more sudden and violent, it may be regarded as the fiery chariot which bore Elijah to the realms of bliss: or, if it be more mild and gradual, it may be viewed as the waggons which Joseph sent to bring his aged father to a participation of all his glory in the land of Egypt. However it may come, it is to the true Christian a termination of all his sorrows, and a consummation of all his joys. “Things present” too, of whatever kind they be, are precisely such as the believer, if he did but see as God seeth, would choose for himself: and “things to come,” however involved in impenetrable darkness at the present, are all ordered for his eternal good. To him they are uncertain: but Infinite Wisdom has ordained them all: and though there may be insulated occurrences which in themselves may be evil, they shall all, when taken together, “work for good,” to those who love God [Note: Romans 8:28.]. Yea, for the believer is prepared the future judgment; and for him are reserved all the glories of the eternal world. And, that we may not doubt the truth of these assertions, the affirmation is renewed at the close of this catalogue, “All are yours.”]

Before we point out the particular bearing of this part of our text, we will notice the latter part, wherein is stated,

II. God’s interest in us—

Here it will be necessary to mark distinctly the drift of the Aposle’s argument. He is shewing, that we ought “not to glory in men,” that is, not to indulge such partiality for some as would lead us to undervalue others. To evince this, he observes, that “all things are ours;” and that it is absurd to be so over-valuing a minute and comparatively insignificant part of our possessions, when we ought rather to be rejoicing in the whole: and that it is moreover highly criminal to be arranging ourselves under the standard of some favourite preacher, when we should be wholly and entirely given up to God as his exclusive property.

The former of these points we have already considered: the latter now calls for our attention.

We are not to give up ourselves to any man whatever, as though we had an exclusive property in him, or he in us: for,

1. We are Christ’s—

[In speaking upon this, we shall not enter into it at large, but shall confine ourselves to the precise view in which we conceive it to have been spoken by the Apostle.

We are Christ’s, and not man’s. The minister, who may be the honoured instrument of bringing us to Christ, has no property in us: he is only the servant whom Christ has sent to bring his bride to him. Christ is the Bridegroom; the preacher is only the person who “presents the Bride as a chaste virgin to Him [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.]:” and this is the precise view in which every convert ought to regard the person to whom the honour of bringing him to Christ is delegated. The bride may feel obligations to the friend who conveys her to the bridegroom; but she does not once think of shewing to him any such partiality as would interfere with the sacred and inalienable rights of her husband. Thus it should be with all who are converted through the instrumentality of men: they should regard those men as mere instruments, or, as St. Paul expresses it, “as ministers by whom they have believed,” and by whom they have received the gifts which the Lord himself, their heavenly Bridegroom, sent to them [Note: ver. 5.].

Let this then be borne in mind: “Ye are Christ’s,” wholly, and altogether Christ’s. He formed you originally: he redeemed you with his own most precious blood: he called you by his grace: all that you are, and all that you have, is his. You must therefore consider yourselves as his: his exclusive property, in all the powers of your body, and in all the faculties of your soul. Yea, so entirely must your affections be set on him, as to make all creatures dwindle into insignificance before him, eclipsed as stars before the meridian sun.]

2. “Christ is God’s”—

[Our affections are not to be so set even on Christ himself, as to forget that he, as our Mediator, is only God’s servant, sent to bring us to God the Father, and to deliver us up to him when the whole work entrusted to him shall be complete. The Lord Jesus Christ is to be considered in a three-fold view; as God, as man, and as the Mediator between God and man. As God, he is equal with the Father: as man, and as Mediator, he is inferior to the Father; as St. Paul has said; “I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man: and the head of Christ is God [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:3.].” He is the Father’s servant, to redeem both Jews and Gentiles by his own obedience unto death [Note: Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:1-3; Isaiah 49:6.] — — — In all that he spoke, and in all that he did, he acted agreeably to the commission which he had received from the Father: and all that he suffered was “according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God the Father.” Whilst this glorious work is going forward, we must look to Christ, in whom all fulness is treasured up for the use of his Church, and “in whom all fulness of the Godhead dwelleth bodily:” but in the last day, when all the elect shall have been gathered in, and every enemy shall have been put under the feet of our victorious Lord, the whole body, with Christ himself at their head, shall be subject unto God the Father, being delivered up to him as the supreme Head of this glorious kingdom, that “God may be all in all [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28.].” As a mediatorial kingdom, it has been received from God the Father; and when, as a mediatorial kingdom, there shall be no longer any need of the Mediator’s office, it shall be given up into the hands of Him from whose counsels it proceeded, and by whose power it was completed.

Seeing then that we, and all the whole Church, are God’s exclusive property, we must, from fidelity to him, guard against the smallest disposition to alienate from him any portion of that honour and authority which are due to him alone.]

We will improve the subject,

1. In its negative and more appropriate view—

[We must “not glory in men.” It matters little whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, be the object of our preference; the attachment which leads us to set up one above another is altogether carnal. Four times in as many verses is this conduct characterized as carnal [Note: ver. 1–4.]. Happy would it be for the Church of God, if this disposition were viewed in its proper light! for there is scarcely a place where more than one minister officiates, but this hateful temper springs up to disturb the union and harmony of the Church. Moreover, as this temper is carnal in itself, so is it injurious to the welfare, as well of those who indulge it, as of all who are affected by it. Wherever it exists, it deprives the person of all the benefit which he might receive from those whom he so ungratefully undervalues: he contributes to excite divisions in the Church of God; and, as far as in him lies, weakens the hands of those ministers, on whom, in comparison of his favourite, he pours contempt. Brethren, let the arguments of the Apostle have their proper weight. The object of your idolatrous regard is given, not to you only, but to the whole Church of God, for whose benefit he is sent forth: and whilst he is sent for others, others also are sent for you: and you are ungrateful to God in so limiting your regards, as not to give a due proportion of them to all who seek your welfare. Besides, you are not to view them, so much as God in them: for of themselves they are nothing: whoever plants or waters, it is God alone that gives the increase [Note: ver. 6, 7.]. To God then supremely, and to God exclusively, are your affections due: and, if you will set them on any creature, you will “provoke him to jealousy,” and cause him to take away from you, as “Nehushtan,” (a piece of brass,) the instrument which he had raised up for the salvation of your souls [Note: 2 Kings 18:4.].]

2. In its positive and more general view—

[You should glory in God with your whole hearts. Think what reason you have to glory in him: what unspeakable benefits you have received at his hands, and what obligations you have to surrender up yourselves wholly unto him! Who, besides the believer, can take to himself the declarations of our text? Of whom, besides him, can it be said, “All things are yours?” Survey the catalogue, believer, and think whether there be any thing in the whole universe that you can add to it? Should not you then be contented? Should not you be thankful? or rather, should there be any bounds to your joy and gratitude? I ask not whether you be in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty, in joy or sorrow: the state you are in is that which Infinite Wisdom has ordained for your greatest good; and there awaits you, at your departure hence, the immediate and everlasting fruition of God himself. O be joyful in the Lord, all ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard day and night! And, as God is wholly yours, so be ye wholly his, in body and in soul, in time and in eternity.

We cannot however conclude without entreating all to see that these blessings do indeed belong to them. It is to the believer, and to him alone, that they do belong: and we earnestly invite all, first, to believe in Christ as their only Saviour, and, then, to make it evident by their works that they have indeed believed; for, if our character be not clear, we can have but little comfort in the promises to which the saints alone are entitled, and of which they alone will ever receive the final accomplishment — — —]


Verse 23

DISCOURSE: 1950

BELIEVERS ARE CHRIST’S PROPERTY

1 Corinthians 3:23. Ye are Christ’s.

TRUE Christians, however poor in this world, are indeed the richest people in the universe. There is not any thing of which they have not the best use and enjoyment. All things temporal, spiritual, and eternal, belong to them: yet they are not so rich in the property they possess, as they are in being themselves the property of another. The Apostle is enumerating in a climax the privileges of Christians; and having said that all things are theirs, he adds, as a more exalted privilege, that they are Christ’s. To elucidate this truth, we shall consider,

I. Whose we were—

The whole creation properly belongs to God; but mankind have alienated themselves from him: nor, whatever difference may have been made between us and others by the grace of God, is there any difference between us by nature. As long as we continue unregenerate we belong,

1. To ourselves—

[The natural man disclaims God’s authority over him, and thinks himself at liberty to live to himself. This was once the state even of the Apostles themselves [Note: Titus 3:3.]: nor is there one amongst us who was not once a rebel like unto them. Our understanding, will, and affections, we used as altogether our own. The members of our bodies too we employed wholly in our own service: even in our religious actions we regarded self rather than God [Note: Zechariah 7:6.]. With respect to all our talents of time, money, influence, &c. we said, “They are our own, who is Lord over us [Note: Psalms 12:4.]?”]

2. To the world—

[The world has an entire ascendency over us by nature. We adopt its maxims, follow its fashions, and obey its dictates: the pleasures, riches, and honours of it are the idols which we worship. What more can be wanting to constitute us its vassals [Note: Romans 6:16.]? Our Lord himself declares, that all such persons are, not merely the friends, but the property, of the world [Note: John 15:19.].]

3. To Satan—

[Satan rules in all the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 2:2.]; he leads them captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.]. Hence he is called the god of this world [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.]: and who amongst us has not fulfilled his will? This then manifests us to have been his children [Note: 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10.]; and, if we be not converted by divine grace, it may still be said to us, as it was to the Jews of old, “Ye are of your father, the devil [Note: John 8:44.].”]

By conversion, however, we are brought back to our rightful Owner,

II. Whose we are—

Christ is the heir and sovereign Lord of all things. Both men and devils are subject to his controul; but believers are his in a more peculiar manner. They are his people [Note: Titus 2:14.], his bride [Note: Revelation 21:9.], his very members [Note: Ephesians 5:30.]—

1. By donation from the Father—

[The Father, from eternity, chose a people for himself [Note: Ephesians 1:4.]. These he gave to Christ to be redeemed by him [Note: John 17:6.]; and secured them to him by an everlasting covenant [Note: Psalms 89:34-36.]. To his eternal purpose we must trace the distinction made between them and others [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.], and ascribe all our salvation to him alone [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].]

2. By his own purchase—

[Though salvation is freely given to us, it was purchased for us at a most invaluable price. Christ gave his own life a ransom for us: the price he paid was no less than his own blood [Note: 1 Peter 1:19.]. This is the great subject of praise in heaven [Note: Revelation 5:9.]: nor should it ever be forgotten by us on earth.]

3. By the drawings of the Holy Spirit—

[No man, of himself, would go to Christ for salvation: all who are his, are drawn to him by the Spirit [Note: John 6:44.]. It is the Spirit who quickens and renews our souls: to him alone must we ascribe the power and the glory [Note: Zechariah 4:6.].]

4. By their own voluntary surrender—

[All Christ’s people are made willing to be his [Note: Psalms 110:3.]: they willingly renew their baptismal covenant, and give themselves up to him at his holy table. This they consider as their reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1]: yea, they rejoice in it as their highest privilege. This is the peculiar character of all true Christians [Note: Jeremiah 50:5.].]

Learn hence,

1. What an exalted character the Christian is—

[He is Christ’s, he is Christ’s property, and “purchased possession.” He is so united to Christ, as to be even “a member of his body [Note: Ephesians 5:30.]:” yea, he is so entirely one with Christ as to be “one spirit with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.].” Amazing! one would be almost ready to account this blasphemy. But it is altogether the very truth of God. Compare him, in this view, with what he was: how marvellously changed! There are changes in the natural world, which are truly wonderful; from an acorn to an oak; from a chrysalis, immured in its cell, to a butterfly, with all its gaudy plumage: but the Christian far surpasses them: for they had in their very nature the elements of what they afterwards display: whereas the Christian had the very reverse; a carnal and earthly nature, which is changed into one that is heavenly and divine. Methinks, scarcely would Beelzebub himself, if restored to his former state, be a greater monument of grace than he. Brethren, I charge you to keep this in mind. And, if any imagine that such a reflection will generate pride, tell them, that what you was is all that you can call yours; and that what you are, is the gift of sovereign grace, to the praise and glory of God alone.]

2. What inestimable privileges he possesses—

[Is he Christ’s? Then Christ acknowledges him as his, and fixes his eye upon him for good, and orders every thing for his eternal welfare. Yes, the Lord Jesus “keeps him even as the apple of his eye,” and will suffer neither men nor devils “to pluck him out of his hand.” To the Christian the Saviour looks as to the brightest jewel in his crown, and as a trophy, in whom he will to all eternity be glorified. It was in reference to him that the Saviour, in his last, his intercessory, prayer, said, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me [Note: John 17:24.]:” and never will he cease to watch over every one of them, till that prayer is answered, and they are enthroned with him in glory, at the right hand of God.]

3. How plain and obvious is his duty—

[Are you Christ’s? Then for him you must live; and every faculty you possess, whether of soul or body, must be improved for him. Your whole life must be a comment on those words of the Psalmist, “Depart from me, ye wicked; I will keep the commandments of my God.” Having obtained this stupendous, this inconceivably exalted honour, you must “walk worthy of your high calling;” or, rather I should say, of Him who hath called you, yea, “worthy of the Lord himself unto all pleasing.” There should be no bounds to your desire after holiness, no limit to your efforts. You should desire to be “pure as Christ himself is pure,” and “holy as your Father which is in heaven is holy.” This is what the Lord Jesus expects at your hands [Note: Titus 2:14.], and what your relation to him imperatively demands. Seeing that “you are not your own, but bought with a price, it is your bounden duty to glorify him with your body and your spirit which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/1-corinthians-3.html. 1832.

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